Tag Archives: National League

Bed Check, 1887

31 May

In 1887, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch set out to find out “How managers watch their players on the road.”

 

schmelz

Gus Schmelz

 

The paper spoke to Gus Schmelz, manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings of the American Association; the previous season, Schmelz managed the National League St. Louis Maroons:

“He thinks, of course, that all good ball-players should retire early, and regards plenty of sleep as conducive to good condition.  Most managers agree with him on this head and some of them have difficult tasks in seeing that their men are under the cover at the proper hour. This is particularly true when the club is on the road and when the aggregation is anxious to have a good time with their friends in the city.”

The paper said Jim Mutrie of the New York Giants had what he thought was a great plan to ensure his players were in bed early:

“(H)e keeps a book which he leaves with the hotel clerk who checks off the players’ names with the hour of their application for the key and late comers may expect free lectures the morning following.  This plan is an excellent one, but it may be news to Mutrie to know that some of his pets return as early as 10 o’clock for their keys, are checked off in regular order and after ascending in the elevator to their rooms, as it were, return by the stairway when all is quiet, and come back in the small hours.”

As for John “Kick” Kelly, the new manager of the Louisville Colonels:

“Kelly says his plan is to wait up for the boys, and hammer at their doors until the whole club is housed, but even this plan is easily circumvented by the ingenious players who rack their brains for schemes to outwit their keepers.”

 

kickkelly

Kick Kelly

 

The only manager who had a plan that was working well, according to the paper, was:

“One of the most prominent and best-known managers in the country, whose name it is unnecessary to mention, has recently adopted a new plan for keeping track of his men, and from which there seems no loop-hole of escape. His orders to his men are that everyone should be asleep by 11 o’clock, thus giving them ample time for repose.  When traveling, this rigorous manager waits at the hotel desk until the hands of the clock point to 10:30, and then every key in the rack which opens his rooms is turned over to him.  These he carries with him to his own, and the tardy player must rouse him up and obtain his key or else stay away during the whole night.  In either case, the unfortunate man has a sure guarantee of a sound tongue-threshing, if not a comfortable fine.  The plan has operated with immense success thus far, but whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.”

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“(He) Should Remain an Outcast Forever”

8 May

Thomas Stevens Rice was an attorney, a criminologist, and covered baseball for The Brooklyn Eagle for nearly 20 years.  In 1921, he related a story that he said showed:

“That the mills of the gods may grind rapidly, as well as grind exceedingly fine.”

 

thomasstevensrice

Thomas Stevens Rice

 

The story was told to him by George A. Putnam, the business manager of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League.

“Outside of San Francisco in the small towns is the Mission League, composed of semi-pro clubs and containing many old professional ballplayers, who turn an honest penny on the side in the sport now that they have passed from the big show and are regularly engaged in their occupations.

“Among the towns in the Mission League is San Jose. And San Jose has a semi-pro park that would delight Ring Lardner.  Far out in center is an ambitious scoreboard, liberally decorated with the advertising sign of the town’s leading hardware merchant and a strong supporter of the team.

“About a month ago San Jose was playing at home and a ball was hit to center it was diligently pursued by two outfielders, both formerly in organized baseball, one of them a major leaguer in his day.  They chased the ball up to the scoreboard and tried to retrieve it before carried out of sight of the umpire, but failed.

“As the two veterans whipped around the corner of the board they surprised a man peeping at the game through the planking.  He was seedy in apparel, had a beard of several days growth, and a general air of utter forlornness. Both outfielders were at first indifferent to the stranger, but a second glance identified him.

“The utterly forlorn stranger was Hal Chase, who two years ago was a member of the New York Giants, at a salary that was probably beyond that which until war times was paid a United States Senator.  It was the same Hal Chase who had been tried by the National League on the charge of throwing games when a member of the Cincinnati Reds and acquitted for lack of definite evidence; the same Hal Chase who had been given another chance by the New York National League club; the same Hal Chase who had been fired by the New York National League club on charges which were never fully explained, but were clearly understood to be based upon alleged crookedness; it was the same Hal Chase who had left New York, returned to his home state of California, and had been barred from the ball parks of that state on the ground of being involved in betting.”

halchasepix

Hal Chase

Rice had no complaints about the “forlornness,” or fate, of Chase:

“Chase, who stands before the world bearing unrefuted charges of having crooked the game which brought him fame and fortune, and which is an institution of which his country has been vastly proud, should remain an outcast forever he would be no more than bearing part of the penalty he deserved.  If every man who had a hand in the crooking of the national game should die an outcast in the gutter, despised by the potter’s field men who bury him.  It would be no more than they deserved.”

Rice also said there were fans who deserved the same fate as Chase:

“The baseball fan who patronizes semi-pro or other games openly participated in by men who have brought the national sport into disrepute and cast a cloud over its honesty merits the fate of a Chase for helping to encourage crookedness.”

He said his statements were in no way exaggerating his position—one he said was critical to protect the integrity of the game:

“The effective penalty imposed upon (Bill) Craver, (George) Hill [sic Hall], (Jim) Devlin, and (Al) Nichols in the 1870s (all were banned for accepting money to lose games in 1877), was not their being dropped from baseball and forced to turn to other means of making a living.  It was the ostracism that followed them their graves and made them anathema even in the society of professional thieves.”

And, he said, all penalties related to gambling should remain in effect forever:

“To impose a definite penalty on baseball crooks and then have the public forgive and forget when it is worked out, would be nothing less than an incentive to a repetition of the crime.  Let the possible throwers of games and the pawns of gamblers know they will be sneered at on the street by every pickpocket and dog-stealer who recognizes them, and that a bartender at a black and tan speakeasy will refuse to serve them.”

“A little thing like a Presidential Campaign…is Ridiculous to Contemplate”

3 Oct

Frederick R. Toombs wrote and edited books about hockey, wrestling, and the origins of “court games, and was also a novelist and spent the first decade of the 20th Century writing syndicated articles about sports and politics.

Less than a month before the 1908 presidential election, he wrote:

“When a wave of baseball frenzy sweeps over the United States, the most momentous affairs of life and state speedily are thrusted aside.  Nothing must stand in the way of the American citizen who hungers to hear the resounding crack of a home run hit.  A little thing like a presidential campaign in this greatest of all baseball years is ridiculous to contemplate.  Many a big league game in this record breaking year has been attended by upward of 35,000 people.  Who ever heard of a presidential candidate drawing such an audience?”

Toombs noted that on the day John W. Kern was selected as the Democratic nominee; the same day his running mate, William Jennings Bryan “delivered a much-heralded speech on trusts,” the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates,and New York Giants were locked in a three-team battle for the National League pennant:

“The big dailies spread the baseball story across the front page, and Mr. Kern and Mr. Bryan were pushed back among the advertisements.  Mr. (William Howard) Taft and Mr. (James S.) Sherman have suffered in much the same way.  Their lengthy communications in the public are frequently shoved back in juxtaposition to the ‘Help Wanted’ column, and in the choice spots of the papers appear stories relating (to every aspect of the baseball season.”

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft

As for the election, he said:

“In fact, whoever is elected to the presidency the defeated man will be fully justified in laying his downfall to the nerve racking races in the National and American Leagues.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

William Jennings Bryan in baseball uniform 1884.

“A season like that now drawing to a close has never occurred before.  The National League (three-team) race…and the American, with Detroit, Cleveland St. Louis and Chicago hacking at each other’s throat (Detroit won the pennant—Cleveland finished ½ game back, Chicago 1 ½, and St. Louis 6 ½) have carried the game to heights of popularity hitherto undreamed of.  The New York National team, for instance, will close the season with almost $500,000 in profits.”

1908 Detroit Tigers

1908 Detroit Tigers

Baseball, said Toombs, had become more than the nation’s most popular sport:

“When the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) said, ‘The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton,’ he conveyed an authoritative opinion of the tremendous influence which may be exerted on a nation, a hemisphere, or a world by a form of sport, a mere pastime.  Inferentially one may well say, that according to ‘The Iron Duke’,’ had it not been for the strength giving qualities of cricket, Napoleon would have won at Waterloo and become, without question the arbitrary dictator of all Europe. Baseball in America holds the position that cricket has in England, and the influence of the game on the American people is of even greater importance and significance than ever known of cricket in England…Not only is baseball the national game; it is the national craze.  It is the only and original, pure and undefiled, blown in the bottle brand of Dementia Americana.”

Toombs concluded:

“Campaign managers may fume and fret, but baseball is a necessity; politics is a luxury.”

The Cubs beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series; Taft beat Bryan by more than a million votes on November 3.

1908 Chicago Cubs

1908 Chicago Cubs

Note:   The phrase “Dementia Americana” had entered the lexicon one year earlier during the trial of Harry Kendall Thaw, who in 1906 killed a man who was having an affair with his wife.  His defense attorney, Delphin Michael Delmas, said Thaw suffered from “Dementia Americana—the sort that makes Americans defend the sacredness of their homes and their wives and children. “ The 1907 trial–the first “trial of the Century”of the 20th Century–resulted in a hung jury. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1908.

 

“The Fourth of July in Baseball has Always been a Day of Reckoning”

4 Jul

During the 19th Century, when completing any given season in the black, or finishing the season at all, was not a foregone conclusion for a large percentage of professional teams; in 1892 O.P.  Caylor of The New York Herald said of Independence Day:

“The Fourth of July in baseball has always been a day of reckoning, as it were.  All clubs, associations or leagues endeavor to retain their breath of life until after America’s natal day so that they may partake in the feast of the turnstiles upon that baseball festival.  The great anniversary of liberty has served many times to lift a weakened club out of financial distress and give it a chance to continue in business probably till the season’s end—at least for a month or two longer.”

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Caylor said everyone in baseball held their breath two years earlier during the run up to the holiday:

“In the early fight between the League and the Brotherhood in 1890, old League generals declared that if the Fourth of July that year should be a rainy day, generally on the circuit many of the Brotherhood clubs would be compelled to suspend before the season ended, but if the day should be fair they might pull through to the season’s end. The day was fair, and the attendance everywhere was large.  That meteorological condition was a blessing not only to the Brotherhood but to the old League clubs as well.”

According to The New York World, on the day after the holiday in 1890, Caylor’s recollections were mostly correct; while the weather was “mostly fair” in several cities, the paper said there was “Bad weather in Boston, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.”  Overall, the Players League won the day, drawing more than 48,000 fans, followed by more than 38,000 for the American Association.  The “old League clubs” were not quite as “blessed“ as Caylor indicated; with home games in two of the three “Bad weather” cities, the National League drew just more than 31,000 fans.

Caylor said while the 1892 season—which included the National league’s only scheduled split-season schedule, with a 12-team league which included four clubs picked up from the defunct American Association —was a struggle for the National League, the only remaining major league would not face the fate of some minor leagues.  The Eastern League’s New Haven franchise folded in June, and in order to not play out a schedule with a nine-team league, “The Athletics of Philadelphia were a little more than willing to ‘cash in,’ and so the circuit was hewed down to an octagon.”

Caylor called the situation in the National League “not so promising,” but said:

“(A) club franchise in that body is so valuable as a piece of property the year around that no fears are entertained of even the most unfortunate of the twelve putting up its shutters and turning its grounds into a sheep’s pasture before the season ends.”

Despite the fact that no team would be “putting up its shutters” before the end of the season, Caylor said that as of Independence Day, only the Pittsburgh Pirates, who “Not one reader in a hundred would have picked,” were operating in the black for the first half of the season, and only because Pittsburgh “has a cheap team.”

Caylor said:

“Of the other eleven clubs a few were about even on receipts and expenditures and some were far behind with losses.  Especially was this the case with the New York and Chicago Clubs.”

Hindsight being Hindsight, just six weeks later, Caylor would suggest that the decision made by league magnates to pare down rosters and institute across-the-board pay cuts at mid-season (July 15), was, at least in Cincinnati, “(A) way to squeeze the old hen into more active and valuable work (laying golden eggs), and on the squeezing they killed her.”

But on “America’s natal day,” he seemed to support the decision of baseball’s executives:

“(They decided the) remedy much be retrenchment. Clubs must employ only the minimum number of players…and salaries must come down…The fact that at least four of the twelve clubs pay over $50,000 each in team salaries proves the ruinous and unbusinesslike height to which baseball salaries were forced by the two years of conflict between the fighting factions.  (John Montgomery) Ward and (Charles) Comiskey each receive $7,000 salary for seven months’ service—a sum proportionately larger than that paid to United States Senators and more while the service lasts than is received by the justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

John Montgomery Ward

John Montgomery Ward

The most egregious example, according to Caylor was:

“The present New York team is a whole sermon against expensive teams.  It draws $50,000 from the club treasury and is one of the bitterest disappointments ever placed upon the field.  There is not even the excuse of ‘hard luck’ or accident to lift the team out of its disgrace.”

The Caylor of August—who called the season “a Dog’s Day Depression,” still held out hope in July:

“There is every reason to believe that this (the second half) will be a much more exciting fight than the first.  The clubs will all start into it with much more certainty of equality, and those that have been weak will make a mighty effort to strengthen the vulnerable places of their teams.”

Lost Advertisements–Spalding’s 1908

20 Jun

asspaldingguide1908

“Spalding’s Official Base Ball Guide,” 1908 advertisement.

“Edited by Henry Chadwick, the ‘Father of Baseball.’

“The best Guide Ever Published

“Containing the New Rules; pictures of all the leading teams in the major and minor leagues, as well as individual action pictures of prominent players.  The World’s Championship, 1907; complete review of the year in the National, American and all minor leagues.  All-American selections;  schedules; averages and interesting baseball data, found only in Spalding’s Guide.”

The 1908 Spalding Guide

The 1908 Spalding Guide

The 1908 edition also promised:

“The origin of base ball settled” with the guide’s “exclusive” publication of the Mills Commission report.

The guide also included interviews with the members of the 1907 Chicago Cubs, on “How we Won the World’s Championship.”

The ad featured part of the interview with right fielder Frank Schulte, who used his World Series money to buy a racehorse:

“I was far from pleased with my own work, but there were spots that seemed bright, and so I have no misgivings about spending my share of the winnings for a great piece of horse-flesh…”

Frank Schulte

Frank Schulte

Other comments from members of the Cubs that appeared in the guide included:

Joe Tinker—“We failed to see that brilliancy that the American League boasted of, and when the good old West side machine got under way, it seldom failed.”

Orval Overall—“I expected a harder time with the Tigers.”

Orville Overall

Orville Overall

Mordecai  Brown—“Never more confident of victory in my life.  I almost made a hit in my three times at bat.

Jack Pfiester (who won game two 3 to 1 while giving up 10 hits)—“After the two base hits in the first inning, I knew by some overpowering sense that I could not explain that I would be successful.”

“In Chicago, the Baseball Slump is what the Crank would call Disgusting”

8 Jun

Oliver Perry (OP) Caylor of The New York Herald came to a conclusion in August of 1892 that many have shared before and since:  baseball‘s best days were behind it.

O.P. Caylor

O.P. Caylor

Earlier,  National League President Nick Young had declared 1892—featuring an expanded twelve team circuit after the collapse of the American Association and just weeks into the only scheduled split-season in major league history—an unqualified success.

But now, into what Caylor called “A Dog Days Depression,” reality had set in.

“Much has been said since the League’s second championship season opened (the second half began July 15) about the renewed interest which was alleged to have sprung up and was keeping pace with the new season.  It has taken no more than a month to prove that this so-called revival was an illusion.”

Caylor noted that there was brief uptick in attendance in games played in Eastern cities during the first three weeks of the second half:

“(B)ut before the teams started west the same old rut of passing indifference seemed to be struck.  And nowhere in the west thus far has there been a sign of a promising revival.”

Caylor pointed to two cities as evidence of baseball’s bleak state;

“In Chicago, the baseball slump is what the crank would call disgusting.  People of that progressive center have use for nothing but the best, and Uncle (Cap) Anson this year has not succeeded in giving them such an article in baseball.  The great general has done the best possible, handicapped as he was in the beginning of the season by the poor allotment of players from the Indianapolis (Hoosiers, the defunct American Association franchise) consolidation pool.”

Cap Anson, 50 errors in 1876

Cap Anson

Caylor blamed most of Anson’s problems on a weak middle infield:

“(Jimmy) Cooney, his shortstop, turned out a sudden complete failure and he has never been able to successfully fill (Fred) Pfeffer’s vacant shoes on the nine.  Any team which is weak at short field and second base is bound to be weak all over, and that is the condition of the Chicagos.

“The old man has been experimenting on new material with more or less success and less success than more.  But by the time he gets his men into what he is pleased to consider championship form, the season will be so far spent that he will have no chance to arouse the chilled pride of the army of Chicago baseball ‘rooters.’”

Caylor said Anson had some optimism for “next season.”

“Maybe the Chicago club can well afford to waste this year whipping together a winning team for 1893.  For next year, the World’s Fair (The World Columbian Exhibition) should be bring a small fortune to the treasury of the Chicago club if they can get a winning team together by that time.  Yet there are those who will argue that the World’s Fair is bound to be a financial injury than a benefit to the Chicago club under any circumstance, and the argument is based upon baseball experience in Philadelphia during the year of the Centennial (1876).”

World's Colombian Exhibition

World’s Colombian Exhibition

 

Caylor said even, A. G. Spalding, former White Stockings president, felt the fair “will be a financial burden” on the team.

Spalding believed:

“(T)hat for every visiting stranger who will be attracted to the ball grounds three resident patrons will be kept away by the unusual demand upon their time by excessive business.”

But Caylor said, his former home was in even more distress than Chicago:

 “Cincinnati, the best-paying city of the circuit during the first half of the year, has become financially alarming.”

Cincinnati had suffered as a result of the National League’s cost cutting measure agreed upon in late June, which resulted in rosters being reduced from 15 to 13 players and across-the-board pay cuts of 30-40 percent for all players.  The Reds best pitcher, Tony Mullane, quit as a result of the cuts.

Tony Mullane

Tony Mullane

“The sorry slump in baseball interest at Cincinnati is another exemplification of that old moral taught by the fable of the ‘Hen Which Laid the Golden Egg.’ I know it is modern usage to speak of the golden egg producer as a goose, but my Latin book called it a hen.  As applied to the Cincinnati case it makes little difference whether we call it a hen or a goose…The Cincinnati club’s hen was laying golden eggs regularly through the first season.  The newspapers put the club down as a sure winner financially.  Then came the greed mentioned in the fable.  The officials thought they saw a way to squeeze  the old hen into more active and valuable work, and on the squeezing they killed her.”

As a result of the pay cuts:

“Cincinnati patrons became disgusted.  For the sake of saving a few thousand dollars in salaries while working at a profit, this club had thrown away its chances to win the second championship.  Nobody who understands human nature need wonder the result.”

Cleveland, home of the second half champion Spiders, was the only town where Caylor said the “national game is appreciated.”   But even that, he said was temporary and favorable financial conditions were “a question of considerable doubt.”

The 1892 season was a disaster for Chicago—on and off the field—they finished 70-76, in seventh place, and attendance dropped by more than 72,000 from the previous season.

While Cincinnati led the National League in attendance, the club lost money.

But, contrary to Caylor’s gloomy outlook, the league—after dropping the spilt-season format—bounced back well in 1893.

In Chicago, where Anson put an even worse product on the field—the Colts were 56-71—predictions that the Columbian Exhibition would destroy attendance were wrong.  Aided by the opening of a new ballpark in May, the club drew the fourth-largest attendance in the league—223,500—more than doubling their 1892 numbers.

Cincinnati’s attendance dropped by just 2200 fans despite a disappointing season where the team hovered near .500 all year and finished sixth.

National league attendance increased by nearly half a million from 1892 to 1893.

While baseball was not on a long-term decline, Tony Mullane was.

He returned to the Reds in 1893, but the 34-year-old was never the same–259-187 with a career ERA below 3.00 before his departure, he was 25-33 with a 5.74 ERA after.

Baseball and Evolution, 1887

11 May

In 1887, 28-years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,The San Francisco Chronicle declared:

“The modern game of baseball is one of the most convincing proofs of the doctrine of evolution.  All the leading features of that theory—natural selection, differentiation of species and the survival of the fittest—are admirably illustrated in the game of baseball as played at present.  It is admitted that baseball originated with the game of town ball, or rounders, and some future Darwin of the diamond field may publish ponderous folios to exhibit the various steps by which the childish game of rounders developed into the scientific sport now so popular.”

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

 

That evolution, said the paper, was also seen in the popularity of the game:

“The permanence of baseball as a game is now firmly established.  It has grown into the affections of sport-loving Americans as thoroughly and absolutely as cricket is the object of English admiration.  As evidence of this it is stated that on Decoration Day 96,000 people attended three games of baseball in and near New York City.”

bb

Despite the popularity of the game, the paper noted there was some pushback against “scientific baseball:”

“The most unfavorable criticism which has passed upon the present game is that it has become a ‘battery game;’ that is, all the playing is done by the pitcher and catcher.  The object of late years has been to keep the score of runs down, and to that end the rules have been framed in the interest of the pitcher and catcher…and scores of one to one and one to nothing have not been uncommon.  Now this is very scientific, but the people who pay their money to see baseball played have become tired of it and want to see the field have something to do.  They want to see more batting and base running and larger scores.”

grays1

The Chronicle said, in order to increase offense, “The National League and American Association, appreciating this state of things has recently adopted some new rules.”  Among the rules instituted for the 1887 season were the reduction of the pitcher’s box from 5 ½ feet to 4, five balls rather than six for a base on balls, and four “called strikes” for a strikeout:

“The opinions of expert players as to the effect of the new rules differ, although most agree that the game will be of more interest to the spectators and will draw better and the gate money be increased, a question of interest to all the clubs except the purely amateur ones. “

Whatever the result of rule changes, this further evolution and the game’s “manly qualities” were reasons baseball had earned its place in American culture:

“It would be hard to find a sport which brings into play the manly qualities of wind and muscle to greater advantage than baseball.  No one but a skilled athlete can play the game successfully, and training men for a baseball campaign has become almost as much a science as training them for a boat race or a foot race.  Eye and nerve, lungs and heart, legs and stomach must all be capable of doing their duty and doing it well to make a good baseball player.  There is generalship too, in the game, and many matches are won by superior skill, even though handicapped by inferior strength.  The game well deserves its title of the national game, and bids fair to excite more interest and attention year by year.”

Note:  As mentioned below in the comments, I incorrectly said the pitcher’s box was reduced in size from 5 1/2 feet to 4 feet. It should have said, it was reduced to 5 1/2 by 4 feet.

“Even when he Wins he Loses”

18 Apr

During his most successful season as a major leaguer, Bobby Byrne had some advice for the children who wished to follow in his footsteps:

“If they asked me I would tell them everything I could to keep them from starting.  Not that I knock the profession, but I think it is a poor one to choose, not because of the life itself, but because of its temptation and hardships, and worse than that, the small chances of being successful.”

Bobby Byrne

Bobby Byrne

That answer was given to syndicated journalist Joseph B. Bowles during the 1910 season when he asked Byrne questions about how he started in baseball “in order to help young and aspiring players.”

Despite being the starting third basemen for the defending World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, and on his way to leading the National League in hits (tied with Honus Wagner) and doubles (178, 43), while hitting a personal-best .296 in 1910, he told Bowles:

“If I had it to do over again I do not think I ever would become a professional ballplayer, in spite of the fact that I love the game and love to play it.  I think a young fellow would do better to devote himself to some other line than to take the chances of success in the national game, for even when he wins he loses.”

He talked about how he started, and offered a theory about where the best players come from:

“I wanted to be a ballplayer and was educated at the game in a good school, on the lots around St. Louis.  I think that ballplayers develop faster when they are in the neighborhood of some major league team.  One or two of the players on a ‘prairie’ team are at every game the big league (team) plays.  They see how the game is played, and being at that age as imitative as monkeys, they work the same things on their own teams and teach all the other boys.  I have noticed when any city has a pennant winning club the quality of baseball played by the boys and the amateurs in that vicinity are much improved.”

Byrne

Byrne

Byrne said because of his time playing on the sandlots of St. Louis, he “picked up the game rapidly,” but said it wasn’t until he began to play professionally, first in Fort Scott, Arkansas, then in Springfield, MO, that he corrected the biggest flaw in his game:

“The hardest thing I had to learn was when to throw.   I think I must have thrown away half the games we played before I learned not to throw when there was no chance to get the runner. I think that is one of the first things a young player should learn; to look before he throws and only throw when he has a chance to make a play.  The next thing, it seems to me, is to learn to handle one’s feet and to keep in the game all the time, and be in position to move when the ball is hit.”

Even at the pinnacle of his career, the man who discouraged children from following in his path, was also somewhat cynical about his own experience:

“The biggest thing I had learned was that, no matter how far a fellow gets up in the business, there still is a lot he does not know, and by dint of watching and learning I held on, and still am learning and willing to learn.  When I know it all I’ll quit, or be released.”

Byrne continued “learning” for seven more seasons, and the end of his career was fitting for someone who warned that a young man should steer clear of baseball because “even when he wins he loses.” After being acquired on waivers by the Chicago White Sox in September of 1917, he appeared in just one game, on September 4.  He was with the team when they clinched the pennant 20 days later; and was released the day after he appeared in the team photo commemorating their American League Championship.

Group portrait of American League's Chicago White Sox baseball team posing in front of a section of the grandstands on the field at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 1917.

White Sox team photo after clinching 1917 pennant, Byrne is fourth from right in second row–he was released the following day.

While the Sox were beating the Giants in the World Series, Byrne was back in St. Louis operating a bowling alley.   After three years away from baseball, he managed minor league teams—the Miami (OK) Indians and Saginaw (MI) Aces—in 1921 and ’22 before returning again to the bowling business.

His admonition against professional baseball didn’t stop his two sons from having their own brief minor league careers; Bobby played for several clubs between 1939 and 1941, and Bernie (listed as “Byrnes” on Baseball Reference) played for the Paragould (AK) Browns in the Northeast Arkansas League in 1940.  Both had their careers interrupted by WWII, Bernie was an airforce fighter pilot in Asia, while Bobby was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and Purple Heart while flying for the airforce in the Mediterranean Theater.

“It’s the Noodle that Throws the Ball, not the Wing”

13 Apr

Charles Benjamin “Babe” Adams appeared washed up at age 34.  After posting a 2-9 record and 5.72 ERA in 1916, the Pittsburgh Pirates released him.  But, Adams wasn’t done.

He won 20 games in the Western League in 1917 and was 14-3 with a 1.67 ERA for Kansas City Blues in the American Association when the Pirates reacquired Adams in July of 1918.

Babe Adams

Babe Adams

Adams was 49-29 with a 2.17 ERA from his return through the 1921 season, and now turning 40, talked about his success with Roy Grove, a cartoonist, and writer for The Cleveland Press:

“A ballplayer has lots of time in which he can do himself harm.

“A fellow can’t disregard nature and get away with it.  He can kid himself along for a while but finally, he’ll snap…A fellow my years has to dig some to get by the young chaps.”

But, said Adams, baseball had changed a lot since his debut in 1906,and most younger pitchers could never approach his longevity:

“The pitching game isn’t what it used to be.  In my day, I used to have to sit down and figure out the different things that go to make pitching and then go out and practice them hard.  The young pitcher today can pick the game up in a few weeks.  He has two or three coaches, with modern methods of tricks and systems and so forth that have been accumulated through years of experience.  That‘s the reason I think they crack so fast.  They don’t get the right seasoning during youth to stand the grinds of the years.”

But in the end, Adams said he was just smarter than most:

“It’s not so much the old pitching arm these Twentieth Century days as it is the pitching head.  After all, it’s the noodle that throws the ball, not the wing.  There are some fellows I can throw a high inside ball to and they won’t touch it, and then let some other pitcher come up and do the same thing and that same player will knock it outa the lot.

“If a fellow were to stop thinking out there in the box and resort to strength, he’d darn soon find out he was losing all his friends.”

babeadams1

A Roy Grove cartoon that accompanied the article.

Adams’ “Noodle” and excellent control (18th all-time lowest walks per nine innings) kept him in the National League for five more seasons, until he was 44.

“Never a Backstop ever Lived could touch Frank Flint.”

6 Apr

George Gore spent 14 seasons in the major leagues, hitting .301—most notably, he led the National League with a .360 average in 1880 as a member of the Chicago White Stockings.

George Gore

George Gore

After his retirement, Gore was a regular attendee of baseball’s winter meetings.  In 1910, he spoke to a reporter from The Washington Evening Star at the 1910 gathering at New York’s Hotel Breslin.  The paper called him “one of the finest fielders, heaviest hitters, and finest ballplayers,” of his era.

Gore, however, didn’t want to talk about his abilities, but instead was making the case for one of his former teammates, Silver Flint:

Silver Flint

Silver Flint

“Frank Flint of our team was the greatest catcher who ever lived.  He knew more than any other man with the mask.  He had the greatest head of any man in the business.  Nobody before or since could touch Flint.

“Every pitcher he ever handled he made a star.  Look at Fred Goldsmith and Larry Corcoran.”

Fred Goldsmith

Fred Goldsmith

Gore noted that neither pitcher “ever showed much” before or after playing with Flint; although he did leave out that both were still teammates of Flint when they began their steep declines in 1884 and 1885.

“Once Frank took them in hand, they all developed into stars.  He could make cracks out of every pitcher who ever towed the slab.  Show me the backstop today who can take any pitcher and make a marvel out of him.”

Larry Corcoran

Larry Corcoran

Of Flint’s role in both pitchers’ success, Gore said:

“Goldsmith was able to pitch for us for several years after his arm was like a plate of ice cream because he had Flint behind the bat.  Corcoran, you know, was a slightly built man (5’ 3” 125-130 pounds) and as cranky as the dickens.

“The White Stockings were out in California at the time that (William) Hulbert was president of the club.  Corcoran had been heard about by our team, but his sour disposition had queered him with a number of them.  Hulbert was a trifle loath to take him.  However, he talked with ‘Silver’.”  ‘Get him,’ said Frank, ‘and I’ll do the rest.’  So Hulbert took Larry.’”

Gore, who likely exaggerated concerns about the highly prized 20-year-old Corcoran, said of Hulbert’s first meeting with the pitcher:

“The boss called Corcoran to him ‘Look here’ said the president, pointing to Flint:  ‘That fellow is your boss.  You do everything that he asks you, and don’t you disobey, or I’ll fire you right off the reel.’

“Corcoran started.  He obeyed implicitly, and everything went along finely.  Larry was soon one of the best twirlers in the league.  One day, though, he got one of his cranky fits on.  He wouldn’t obey the signals and crossed ‘Silver’ several times.”

Gore said Flint went out to speak to his ‘cranky’ pitcher:

“’Larry,’ he said quietly, but his eyes were snapping, ‘you either do what I say or you  go straight into the clubhouse—I don’t care a d— which you do. Now get busy.’”

Gore said Corcoran complied:

“After the game, Hulbert was sitting in the grandstand.  Corcoran came out of the clubhouse dressed, and the boss was waiting for him.  He called the pitcher to him.  ‘Look here Lawrence,’ sa id the old man, ‘didn’t I tell you that Frank was your boss?  Now if you let another yip out of you like you did today you’ll be fired so quick that your head will swim.’”

Gore said Corcoran again complied, and from that point on Flint had him “trained to the minute.”  Corcoran was 175-85 with a 2.26 ERA from 1880 until the White Stockings released him in 1885—his arm dead.  Despite the numbers, Gore called Corcoran “only a fair twirler” but for Flint.

Goldsmith, a claimant to the invention of the curveball, had a similar fate. He was 98 and 52 with a 2.57 ERA from 1880 through 1883 with Chicago; in 1884, he began to struggle and was 9-11 with a 4.26 ERA when the White Stockings sold him to the Baltimore Orioles in August.  His career was over at the end of that season.

Corcoran’s big league career was over at age 27, Goldsmith was 28.

Whether Flint deserved as much credit as Gore gave him for their brief, incredible success, is open to debate, but in 1910, the former outfielder was certain in his praise for his former teammate, who had died in 1892:

“Yes, there was never a backstop ever lived  could touch Frank Flint.”